How often do you live in the moment, only to reflect and realize the greatness you witnessed, experienced, or were a part of firsthand? Twenty years into mixed martial arts, the depth of flashing back grows more and more shallow. Those who blazed trails in MMA for athletes of today are rarely memorialized. Often, legendary fighters, with minimalized options, repeatedly dip back into the well of what they know: fighting. This issue was investigated on episode 80 of Cage Side Submission Radio (CSSR) with special guest Anthony Smith, the middleweight champ at Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC), in an attempt to instigate MMA fans to become more intent on speaking out against such ineptitude.
Initially, the interview was a typical check-in with a winning fighter; host, Steve Rychel, was touching base with Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (22-11-0) after proclaiming the belt truly belongs to him, defending his title reign at CFFC 50 on July 18, 2015 against Tim Williams, the previous owner of the CFFC’s middleweight strap. Several minutes into the interview with Smith, co-host, Racheal Blaze, entered into the conversation, freshly off of her recent trip to Grand Junction, Colorado. Possibly a terrific tourist hotspot, Blaze’s only sightseeing was watching her best friend, “Mr. International” Shonie Carter, suffer a devastating defeat at the hands of a young buck at Golden Fights: Cage Wars 22 on July 25, 2015. Smith chimed in at Blaze’s explanation for her tardiness,
“That’s really sad to hear. I’ve always been a huge fan of Shonie Carter.”
The issue greatly exceeded a friend suffering defeat. At forty-three years of age and riding a string of losses speckled with wins, the discussion centered around wondering: How do we encourage fighters to recognize their time to hang up the gloves, and where do they go from there? A decision solely that of the fighter, but when everyone outside the cage sees what they deny, it’s their safety being questioned, not their warrior spirit. Carter, sixteen years Smith’s elder, Smith remembered,
“I started seeing him on fight cards, and I’d think to myself, ‘Man, just hang them up dude. You don’t have anything to prove anymore. I’ve been watching you fight for forever.’ I’ve got all the respect in the world for that dude.”
Many competitors who behold such admiration for a combatant of such prominence and notoriety in the game would jump at a chance to make their mark against a legend, but not Smith,
“Two times, I’ve been offered that fight, and I won’t take it because I don’t want to fight Shonie Carter; you couldn’t pay me enough. When they offered it, I remember my manager saying, ‘They offered you Shonie Carter, and I told them no.’ I said, ‘Good because I don’t want to fight him.’”
Unfathomable to many in the MMA community: allowing the opportunity to fight a name in the sport pass by. Smith brushed off the opinions and judgments of others and justified his reasoning,
“No disrespect, it’s not because I think Shonie Carter would beat me, because I don’t think that at all. I’m much younger, and I’m in a totally different phase of my career than he is. I don’t want to fight Shonie Carter because I don’t want to beat him up; I don’t want to disrespect him like that. I don’t want to fight him because I remember having memories of wanting to be where he was at one point in his career, having the fans and support he had. How am I supposed to stand across from that man and look up to him and want to say, ‘Thank you for inspiring me in my career, and now I’m going to wreck you?’ It doesn’t do anything for my career. Nobody is going to look at me and say, ‘Ah, you beat Shonie Carter in 2015!’ If it were 2003, that would have really meant something. It’s just going to hurt my feelings.”
Blaze’s passionate testimony of cornering Carter in his recent loss gripped listeners, as well as Smith. Her emotions played tug-of-war with distinguishing between friend and fighter. A fighter’s combative edge never really seems to locate the off switch, even when seated in a wheelchair and rolled right up to the lever. For Smith, the topic extends far beyond Carter, and he displayed his enormous “Lionheart” stating,
“I hate hearing that stuff; I really do. No one wants to hear about what happens to these guys.”
Smith wasn’t requesting Blaze to stop talking about the matter. Quite the contrary, he was disgusted that fighters’ health and future are swept under the rug and forgotten. Reverent about MMA and its athletes, both of whom she loves dearly, Blaze wore her emotions on her sleeve and choked up at the fact that entertainers, such as Shonie Carter, are treated as disposable, squeezed dry of their entertainment value and dropped at the wayside.
Champions in cages, or life in general, formulate solutions, actionable maneuvers to adjust problems into workable actions, rather than riding out a decision made for them. Smith reflected on a noticing he made while recently attending a local promotion,
“Guys like Shonie Carter, and all legends, should be running the athletic commissions. I think that’s how the fights last night in my hometown were; every person was a former fighter.”
Smith’s suggestion jumpstarted the hamster in everyone’s mind to begin running on its wheel to postulate various options: pension plans, unionization, or other potential supports. Pinpointing how beloved fighters of yesteryear wind up in Carter’s handwraps may stem more change in a broken system; therefore, “Lionheart” roared his perspective,
“I think the wrong generation of guys are getting that kind of stuff…Look how he [Forrest Griffin] is set for life because, not only what he accomplished in the cage, he’s a company guy, and the UFC is taking care of him; he helped them.”
Without muffling any of Griffin’s thunder in MMA, it could be argued Carter’s enrichment to the sport was groundbreaking to its development: accumulating a record of 50-30-7 1NC; a participant on the UFC’s reality show, The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback; a spinning back-fist KO of Matt Serra at UFC 31 that replays on highlight reels and will continue being stitched in clips until the end of time.
Obviously, Smith is a devoted student to the sport, and he equally models compassion for those who pioneered where his MMA GPS currently locates him. Smith’s conclusion to his time on CSSR should tag a comparable conclusion for the legends who previously left so much in the cage,
“I think it’s the generation of guys before Forrest who are having the problem. Your Shonie Carters, your Mark Colemans; those are the guys who paved the way for Forrest, but Forrest, Mike Swick, and all those guys took it mainstream. But they were only doing what they had seen done before them. They just got in at the right time; it’s all about timing.”
Timing is everything is spot on, and an organization to assist these fighters with alternative options is known as Legends of the Cage (LOTC), and they have entered the MMA scene before this trends prolongs any further. LOTC’s intentions coincide parallel with stories as Shonie Carter’s. The mission of LOTC’s founder, Brian Moore, and co-founder, Gary Goodridge, states:
LOTC is an organization of former fighters, retired or injured; they are all about taking care of their own. There are a lot of competitors from the past who need help, and there are a lot of people out there who want to help. LOTC’s objective is to bring everyone together.
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